Rule, Britannia: It’s Great Britain’s track party

After two days inside the Olympic Velodrome, Team Great Britain has left no doubt who is hosting this track party

LONDON, England (VN) — After two of six days of racing, track cycling at the London Olympics is starting to feel less like an international competition and more like a British house party — with all other nations invited to play along, at their own peril.

Thus far, Great Britain has won gold in three of four track events — the men’s team sprint, men’s team pursuit and women’s keirin — and if not for an overtaking violation, it would certainly have medaled in the women’s team sprint.

Why is that a certainty? Because, like every other British track team at this Olympics, the women’s team sprint duo of Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish set a new world record in qualifying Thursday evening, riding two laps in 0:32.526.

Yes, China went on to beat that world record, so a gold medal was far from guaranteed, but it’s more than likely that Pendleton and Varnish would have left the velodrome with medals around their necks.

Great Britain’s women’s team pursuit squad is looking good for another gold medal in Saturday’s racing; Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell completed 12 laps of the Olympic Velodrome to set a new world record in qualifying Friday, clocking a 3:15.669, nearly four seconds faster than second-placed Team USA’s 3:19.406.

“Great Britain is obviously in a league of their own,” said USA Cycling’s track endurance director Ben Sharp. “We’re just going to keep hammering them. We have two more rounds to go, so obviously there’s an opportunity to falter and an opportunity for us to overtake them. Realistically, we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and execute to the best of our ability.”

“Yes, I’m puzzled by these performances,” French track cycling chief
Isabelle Gautheron told Agence France Presse. “They haven’t dominated for the past four years, they were among the best teams in the world along with Australia, German and France.

“Here, they’re crushing everybody. The women (in the team pursuit) are four seconds faster than everybody else.”

The British men’s pursuit team powered its way over 16 laps in the 4km event to post a new time of 3:52.449, beating its old world record mark of 3:53.295 set in Melbourne in April.

Australia’s Jack Bobridge admitted he and his team pursuit compatriots had been powerless to do anything against Great Britain.

“At the end of the day, we got beat by a better team,” he said. “They done everything perfect and they broke the world record, so you can’t say anything and you can’t complain. When someone does that, you have to accept it. They’ve done nothing wrong and they rode everything to perfection. We have to settle for silver, and we will. But hats off to Great Britain, they were perfect.”

This is, of course, coming less than two weeks off Britain’s one-two finish at the Tour de France, and on top of the Olympic host nation’s performances on the road, which included Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome taking gold and bronze, respectively, in the men’s time trial, and Lizzie Armitstead taking silver in the women’s road race.

Of eight medal events contested in cycling as a whole, British Cycling has four gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze.

And make no mistake about it — the track events have been quite a party.

Thursday’s attendees included Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, with world road champion Mark Cavendish commentating on the racing for BBC. In the house Friday were Wiggins, Sir Sebastian Coe (chairman of London Organizing Committee), Tony Blair (former British prime minister) and NBA star Kobe Bryant, on a rest day from his duties with USA’s basketball team.

“It’s just phenomenal. To experience a home Olympics is something special,” Wiggins said. “To win gold and see these boys do what they have done tonight is incredible.”

Given Britain’s successes, the enthusiasm inside the velodrome has been deafening. When the hosts won the men’s team sprint Thursday, Sir Chris Hoy said he knew they’d won before crossing the finish line based solely on the roar of the crowd.

“You get goosebumps when you walk into the velodrome, the anticipation of the event. It’s like nothing else,” Hoy said. “Not many athletes get this chance to compete in front of a home crowd, and very few of those athletes get a chance to win a gold medal.”

It was no different Friday night during the men’s team pursuit final against Australia.

“I’ve ridden up the Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France, and that was great, but this was 10 times that,” said Geraint Thomas of the men’s pursuit squad. “The noise, it actually hurts your ears, but you get a really big buzz off of it. Once you are racing you don’t really hear it, you just focus on the turns you have to do on the front, and then it’s all over, it’s back to reality, and you hear everyone screaming at the top of their voices. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Australia’s Anna Meares, who took fifth in the women’s keirin, also commented on the partisan crowd inside the velodrome. “I am surprised there are so many British in the crowd. I thought the ticket distribution would be a little more even,” she said. “Honestly, when I am out there, I don’t really notice it. In our race, I could tell Vicky was making her move, because the pitch changed.”

The party continues Saturday with the first day of the men’s omnium and qualifying heats of the men’s sprint, with just one medal event, the women’s team pursuit, where the two fastest teams from the first round battle for the gold, with the third- and fourth-fastest vying for bronze.

Once again, Great Britain is expected to dominate. And once again, if the home team does so, the crowd will go ballistic. As for all the other nations, they are encouraged to come inside and join the party — just don’t forget who’s hosting it.